The Texas Bohemian

Word artist. Jack of all Trades.

Happy Birthday Mom

Today is my mom’s birthday.  She would have been 87.  One year ago today she was facing a quick end to her life and suffering from cancer.  In my archives are the stories of her struggle and the part I played in being her caretaker.

I wasn’t a very good son sometimes.  I didn’t visit enough though I tried to make sure she never needed anything.  We were pretty close.  I called her every day.  It’s those phone calls I miss the most.  At times off and on during the day when I had a thought I’d call her up.  If I built something or came up with a new idea I’d go show her or go bring her here.  She was always complimentary and kind.

My kids loved her dearly.  She loved them, too.

Mom had a long life though I wish it had been longer.  I hope I last as long as she did.  I’m convinced she would have lasted longer had it not been for her local water supply that was terrible and full of toxins that cause the kind of cancer she had.  Woodlawn water killed her, of this I have no doubt whatsoever.  (Our water isn’t any better.  We now have filters.)

When my dad died I crawled into a hole and didn’t come out for over a year.   I took it hard.  Mom, like dad, was a good friend.  Friends are few and far between with me.  It is selfish of me to think “I lost….” as if they lived for me.  But in reality for most of their lives and mine that’s the way I viewed the world–though I would not admit it.  We humans tend to see things as they relate to us.  “Our” wife/husband, “our” kids, “our” parents, like they are there FOR us.  How selfish.

I am sorry, mom and dad, for thinking you were there for me.  I was wrong.

Though it is part of the Christian belief, this idea of serving others, it is not quite so practiced or even understood by Christians.  It wasn’t until I no longer believed in that religion and became a Buddhist that I finally understood what Jesus taught, better said by Buddha, regarding our selfish nature.  (Of course it might have been better said by Jesus but two thousand years of manipulation and “interpretation” changed things.)   I learned my lesson too late to be the son I should have been.

I can say that I learned early enough to be there when mom needed me at last.  I am  happy to have had the time I did with her, difficult as it was, during her last days.  It was those times between trying to keep her in bed and watch nurses and doctors and so forth that I found time to read and contemplate about where I came from and where I need to go.  It was in letting her go that I learned how to let Christianity go too.  Both passed away from me entirely at the same time.

The suffering we have is often self-inflicted.  I caused myself suffering and inadvertently caused mom to suffer because I was possessive of her: “My” mom.  I should have been her son instead.  I was her son at last, though.  After she died I could have let guilt and sorrow drag me into a pit as I did when dad died.  But that is suffering too.  Instead I understood that as Buddha teaches everything is temporary.  There are comings and goings of all things.  Learning to accept this is an end to suffering.

Finally, I could be guilty for not being mom’s son rather than believing she is “my” mom.  I have forgiven myself as I know she forgave me.  That is the nature of love: forgiveness.  This, too, the Buddha teaches, that others are important but we, ourselves, are important too.  If we neglect ourselves we not only cause our own suffering but we cause others to suffer.  Thus I choose to forgive myself.

My mom loved me always and forever.  When I was a child she was not always kind.  Sometimes she was abusive.  I forgave her of that many years ago and loved her in spite of it.  Then she had to learn to forgive me and love me for seeing her as “my” mom and for my not being her son.

Our life on this earth is short and temporary.  It would be much longer and the value of our lives would all be extended, however, if we would all learn a few lessons from Buddha’s wisdom.  The most important lesson we can learn is how not to see other humans as possessions, “my” family, “my” friends, etc.,  and instead see them as valuable beings to whom we should give ourselves.  When we change this single attitude we change the whole world.  Suddenly all those things friends and family do that hurt us no longer sting because we realize  the stings are caused by them not bending to our will.  But why should they?  It is our will that should bend to theirs.  Then they are happy and, after all, is that not what we hope for if they are friends and family?

In turning loose of mom that day last November I learned to turn loose of self.  I watched Christianity fail her and my family.  Buddha’s words did not fail me.  It was the  ultimate test.  The greatest gift mom gave me besides her love was the opportunity to see truth revealed and and in becoming her son I at last found my foundation in Buddha.

Thanks mom.  I know you would not be very happy about my Buddhism but then you always hoped for my happiness more than your own.  I finally understand why.

I miss you and I love you always.

August 9, 2009 Posted by | Blather, Religion | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All Alone.

It’s been almost a week since mom died. I just don’t know how I feel. Numb, I guess… as expected.

My world is filled with little reminders, very close reminders, of mom’s life with us. There’s food on our shelves and in our freezer and refrigerator, some she bought and some that came from her house. The catfish she loves so much that I bought to fix for her is still waiting for the fryer. There’s little nic-nac’s all over. There’s even a box of medications we’ve not disposed of yet (some of which I really want to know why she was given!). And, of course, there’s that house three miles away from where I sit brimming with Mom Stuff.

I have her rocker/recliner here now. We brought a few other little things from her house, practical items and quaint reminders of her. Other family members took a few things she’d promised to them or that will remind them of her. She didn’t leave much of a will, just a letter that said to sell the house and divide the money. We looked around her house with lumps in our throat reaching for things that we shared with her. It’s just stuff with memories attached. That’s all.

Life is so fleeting, so short, so impermanent. What is eighty six years in the span of the universe? Less than a blink. When it’s over all that is left are memories and stuff. A hundred years from now even the stuff and the memories will be gone. Nobody will remember my mom. Nobody living will have known her. She’ll be an old picture on a wall or maybe just a name on a stone in an old cemetery. Maybe not even that.

What’s it all about? Why are we here? Will we ever know? Are Christians right in believing there’s a “heaven” somewhere with Jesus and open arms waiting for the sacred few? Are Buddhists right, are we cycled through life after life, cranking out Karma, hoping for the enlightenment that will end our cycle and blend us in with the great all knowing? I hope that’s not right either. I’m stuck with not knowing. What lies beyond we don’t know. It doesn’t really matter all that much. Those who remain have only memories and stuff in place of that life we held so precious but never really did right by. What ever kind of place it is, mom is there. We’re not.

There is one part of her “stuff” I didn’t know existed. She wrote a journal. The last notebook she wrote in begins thus:

I was born 8-22 to Rebeca & Emory Self 8 miles from Murfreesboro…

She writes a few pages of her life history and then segues into an account of the days that were passing. I don’t know when she started this volume. We found another notebook, a little older, with more writing, dates and times and simple events. In it mom noted each day, how she felt, and entered the temperature for the day. She kept up. Her days were important. She writes almost exclusively of her kids, we who failed to recognize how important every single day was while she was still here. We spent too much time in our world and not enough in hers.

That final notebook does sound like mom. Here’s her last entry:

August the 12, Tues, the nurse called the doctor. The amb. came after me. I was there 9 days. Bob and Donna came. Vickie and Rusty all came. Bob brought me home the 19. They stayed until the 21. I have cancer. I start the treatment the 4th of Sept. They went home yesterday. I am all alone.

Shortly after she wrote that she was in and out of the hospital, mostly in, until the last time when she was transferred to hospice. We got her home for a day and then she was back at hospice for her remaining few hours.

Even as I know she preferred being alone in her house to being with us in ours I feel a deep sadness as I recognize the depth of loneliness she sometimes felt. I know, too, that even if we’d moved in with her she would have felt that loneliness, that longing for family who left this world long ago, for Dad who was her companion for more than 50 years, for old friends who had passed or were unable to visit any longer because of their health. I know dad felt that loneliness deep within his heart once his only brother died and all his family was gone. Even though his brother was 300 miles away and he rarely got to visit it’s still not the same as him being gone.

The sum of our lives is the people we know and love. Everything else is just “stuff.” As our days pass by and those we’ve cared for disappear into the past we all begin to feel the loneliness so poignantly expressed in mom’s last words: “I am all alone.”

There are those who claim to “feel the presence” of loved ones. They say they can walk through a house, grasp a belonging, sit quietly in the woods, and “sense” someone who has died. Maybe they can. I never could. When dad died I worried about that for the longest. Why can’t I “feel” him here on this land where I live which he loved to wander about on? Why wasn’t his presence felt in the boards and timbers of that cabin I lived in back then, the one he helped build? Why did I never feel him when I visited mom? I never have felt dad nearby.

I can’t sense mom, either. Not walking through that old house she held so dear to her heart and not sitting in the chair she spent so much time in can I “feel” mom with me. Maybe it would help. Or maybe it would just make me more sad. Either way, I really wish I could sense her nearby. I wish.

None of us really know or comprehend where she has gone. We all believe she is not alone and will never be alone. We believe the part that was her, the mom we knew, has become something different, a spirit free from a body riddled with pain. I believe that too even though my concept of the “Undiscovered Country” is not that of my Christian siblings. Though I cannot and most likely never will sense her near me I believe with all my being that she lives and she is not alone. Her final entry, were it penned from over there, would be, “I am with those who have gone before. I am no longer alone.” I’m quite sure it would be that.

We, however, are still here. We’re stuck with memories and stuff. For the rest of our days we’ll live without her blessed smile, her love, all those wonderful looks she always gave us. Each of us will forever grasp at memories and hold her stuff and think, “where did you go, mom?” We’ll look into the void of the unknown with tremendous longing and we’ll say, “we love you mom. We miss you! We are so alone!”

November 20, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last Mile

It’s over.

I love you, Momma.

My mom fought a hard fight. She ran that race right down to the wire. She was a strong woman. In the end, though, age and biology overcame her indomitable will to live. She died as we sat close by in the late hours last night.

When we got her back to Hospice she went down even more rapid than she had been. Over night Wednesday I slept on the roll-away while my brother and my sister’s daughter stood by her bedside. From what I heard and was told they had a veritable camp meeting. She sang gospel songs and talked about Jesus.

Towards morning she became so weak she could no longer speak. Through the day she lay twitching and unresponsive as the nurses came and went with medications they hoped might relieve any pain she was in. I spent the day by her side as I promised, telling her I loved her and I was proud of her.

In the evening around eight or so I stood by her, rubbing her neck. She’d pointed to it though it was all she could do to communicate with a wavy hand. Her muscles were tense. All of a sudden she scrunched up, her eyes clenched, she turned a very dark red and shivered. She apparently suffered a stroke or something as I was holding her.

In a few seconds she stopped the incessant twitching she’d been doing. She became rigid, eyes fixed with labored breathing. We called for the nurse who said call the family by her side. I called my wife who had just left for home half an hour before.

For more than two hours her body clung to life though the eyes were vacant. Her breathing stopped and it was over.

I can’t say mom was a perfect mom nor that my childhood was wonderful. What I can say is that my mom loved me, my family, my siblings and their families with an unending and undying love.

Like most kids I didn’t spend enough time with her through the years, all wrapped up in my own life. In the end, though, I was there. I promised I would not leave her side and I didn’t.

When my dad died I was angry at God and at Dad for going so quick. The moment he left us I started a journey that ended the moment my mom took her last breath. Though I miss her very much already I have an understanding of life and death, a strength of purpose, I never had before. I was able to be strong for mom and family because of what I’ve learned from Gautama the Buddha. The answers I found in his words are the foundation upon which I have stood through these past few weeks. With mom’s passing I am firmly on a new path, putting behind the old, setting aside the days of confusion, moving forward.

I want to be the best Buddhist and the best servant of mankind I can possibly be. These weeks with my mother showed me where I can find strength. I learned I can do many things I would not have thought myself capable. I have a strong desire to give the same kind of compassionate service to others as I have given to my mom as Jesus and as Gautama taught us we should.

Yesterday is over. Tomorrow is full of promise. Today I shall be sad, I shall cry, I shall remember and I shall look upon a hundred, a thousand different reminders of the woman who gave me life and say “Thanks, mom.” I shall say goodbye and I will be assured that I have done my duty as a son, given her all my love and provided all I could for her as she ran her last mile, the one we ran together.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , | 3 Comments

Choosing Death

Yesterday I talked with my wife about the question of “assisted suicide” and all that goes with someone deciding to die or for someone deciding FOR someone to die.  Today in a very real way I have to make that decision.

We’re not talking Kavorkian machine here but the decision is the same.

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November 4, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Agony of Not Knowing…

The doc pretty much confirmed what I had surmised already.  Mom’s digestive system is not going to function.  In all likelihood the cancer that took her kidney has enveloped part of her intestine.  Point of view and treatment options switched today from trying for improvement to getting her comfortable and planning for extended care for as long as she lives.

When my dad died I can’t say how mad I got at God.  In these situations some of the strongest Christians sometimes start a sentence in their mind, “what kind of God would…..”

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November 3, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Problem with Hell…

…is in the definition.

Trying to catch up here. I have been living in purgatory, at least, if not an upper level of hell. As I catch my breath I’ve been contemplating the levels of hell…

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October 25, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Friday Night

Go figure.  Plans were to have some dinner and watch a movie with the kids while my wife went with her dad to the football game.

Plans change.

I sat down at my desk to check on mom.  She had a guy nurse today I wasn’t impressed with this morning.  Well, he wasn’t available.  I checked back ten or so minutes later and the charge nurse said, “were you calling about your mother falling out of the bed?”

WHAT?

No, I told her, it was news to me.  The nurse didn’t call.  Was I pissed or what?  Incompetent bozo.  I called my wife who picked me and the kids up.

Doc didn’t come to examine her.  He should have.  I told the floor nurse I didn’t want the twirp nurse back in here.  She watched mom until shift change.

The doc pulled mom’s NG tube out today.  It was too early.  She’s been barfing all evening.  I’ve caught gobs in towels and rags and she’s been changed a dozen times.  I fear the tube will need to go down again.  I doubt very seriously she’ll be able to do without it.

Mom  has another problem.  She has an infection with a really nasty bug they’re not sure how to kill.  Four of their strongest antibiotics did nothing.  The warnings are to wear gloves or wash hands, avoid contact, etc.  Well, it’s impossible to avoid contact and gloves are a bit useless.  When she’s barfing she’s barfing.  She got me good in the face a while ago.  If I’m going to catch that thing I will.

I had hoped my older sister was going to come give some relief.  They live in AR and have been fussing about not having the dough to come back.  Finally they got here but the warnings (see above) spooked her off.  So, she and her insane redneck husband have gone to the gambling boat over in LA.  Ahh, so much for money, eh?  I’m going to tell her to go on back to AR.

My younger sister doesn’t have the stomach for watching mom.  She can’t handle it, mentally or emotionally, either.  My brother has a very bad back and can’t travel down here or do much.

So, here I sit.  Mom is waving her arms doing who knows what, mumbling, slipping into lahlah a little more.  Sleeping too, I hope.

My mom loves me.  I love her too.  The thing is, life was hell when I was a kid.  She has always been self-centered and was abusive when I was a kid.  She’s always been a hypochondriac and demanded attention.  She gave my dad hell all the time I was growing up.  I could go on but there’s not much use.  She’s my mom and whatever has happened was yesterday.  I forgive completely.  Today is the day we live in and today I love mom and she needs me.  So, like I said, here I sit.

I’m not crying.  Not yet.  Not tonight.  Just sad that Mom has gone away into her head and we’re really wondering if she’ll ever come back.

Oops, there she goes again.

October 24, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , | Leave a comment

Big man crying

They do, you know.

When I get tired I get all screwy.  And I’m tired.

I was trying to dry out a get well card from my mom’s sister, Aunt Sybil.  And damned if I didn’t bawl.

Aunt Sybil calls wishing she could talk to mom but she can’t.  So she cries on the phone.  I haven’t talked to her but my wife and brother-in-law has.  Mom  hasn’t.

This has been the month of Mom’s illness.  She’s spent the month back and forth, mostly forth, in the hospital.  Her idiot doctor was doing her very badly, not treating her for her blocked intestine but simply cleaning out what was clogged from both ends and then sending her home only for her to start throwing up and be back again.  It has been hell for mom.  I feel selfish just mentioning how much time we’ve been spending driving her here, waiting in intake or the ER or her rooms.  She’s had several on several floors.

Finally, with a change of doc came some action.  Last Thursday evening she went into surgery.  Or was it Friday?  Days run together.  Nobody really believed she’d live through it.  She did.  They took her to ICU where she was until a couple days ago.

Most of the time she was in ICU she was only half here, mostly not, babbling and incoherent.  Now, in this room where I sit with her, she rarely shows up.  Her mind goes all kinds of places.

She has re-lived all kinds of things from what she’s been babbling.  Night before last she was back dealing with the Texas City Disaster.  She lost a brother in that.  And she’s called dad.  He’s been gone ten years.  (Damn, ten years?)

I have kids.  I’ve spent my time with them and since keeping them sitting around here has gotten to be a burden for them I haven’t come up here like I should have or would have liked to.

Two nights ago, after my wife and I went to bed, our phone rang.  It was a nurse who verified I was mom’s son and handed mom the phone.  She went on about bleeding and being in bad shape and all kinds of things weird.  I drove up to the hospital.  It was 11 PM.

Mom was still holding the phone, trying to get my brother.  I put the phone down and told her I’d called him.  It calmed her some.

The doctors call her problem disorientation.  That doesn’t quite describe it.  She’s constantly halucinating, rarely aware of where she is, usually babbling nonsense and occasionally yanking on IV’s, her NG tube and the covers, trying to get up.  When she’s trying to get up she usually gets nasty.  She curses and has called me a few choice names like Jackass and worse.  Last night she whacked at me a few times, too.

Drugs, they say.  Morphine.  And maybe lack of sleep.  And a little infection, maybe.  Maybe hospital dementia?  I think they’re full of shit.  Just because they manage to get her to remember her name or the month (not the day) they think she’s not so far afield.  They haven’t sat here hour upon hour listening to her babble.

I’ve gotten up half a dozen times to calm her, unwind her, settle her down a little while I’ve been writing this.  If she isn’t watched she’ll pull something or wind up in a twist.

After I got here night before last I just stayed all night.  I told her I  had to go about three and she whined like a little girl and said, “no…. I want your company.”  I stayed.  I had to get our car back to my wife and watch the kids yesterday so I went home in the morning.  I gave the kids assignments and napped three hours on the couch.  My wife called at noon from the room and said she’s still wacked.  A little later my brother-in-law called and said the same.  I came back as soon as I could and I guess I’m here for the duration.

I’m tired.  My cousin called just now.

OK, back again.  Not going to get this finished.  Sine that line just above my mom has called me bastard a few times and keeps trying to get out of the bed.  Now she’s wadding up the sheets and trying to get up.

There was a moment, a few seconds, this morning around sun up when she showed up long enough to smile at me, say say she loves me and pat me on the cheek.  I guess that’s why I stay.

October 22, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where do I start?

The real world has been quite confusing. The online world not much different. The world at large still going to hell in a handbasket. And I just finished my coffee so maybe there’s a little time before life awakes.

The doc gave mixed signals about my mom’s surgery. Maybe she’ll do fine, maybe not. She probably needs to have the kidney out… but not if she’s going to die soon. She’s 86, you know. So. The surgery went well after all. No complications. She was out of the ER by noon, Monday. to ICU by 4pm. Into a room yesterday.

Yesterday, though, things went south. Not with the surgery but our relationship. Or maybe I’m just over-medicated? Well, no, not exactly. I went by to see my mom in the morning then came back home to get some things done. Around noonish I got calls from siblings that mom was in a room. A couple hours later while I was working in the shop my mom called from her room.

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June 25, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Middle Day …obligations!

Still here!

Yesterday I had a bad case of the “don’ts.”  Ever get those?  Like, “screw it, I just DON’T!”  Don’t want to… whatever.  Goof off.  I’d better get busy today or I might catch it again! Continue reading

June 11, 2008 Posted by | Blather | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment